A recent question posed by a member of the writing community on Twitter made me pause, for a new and improved reason. It was about whether to write in the genre you enjoy reading, due to a presumption that one must be an avid reader of any given fiction genre in order to write successfully and believably in that milieu.
I’ve previously written on this subject in this blog, but this time I realized something different about why I went against convention with my Other Worldly series. Although I do agree that being a prolific reader definitely helps one have the first clue about writing a book of their own. And yet, once I began drafting a novel series, my reading pace inevitably slowed.
For me it was voracious reading of both fiction and nonfiction over many decades that built a strong foundation of familiarity, enabling me to attempt braving this book-writing world for myself.
But the reality is I do, and I absolutely don’t, write in genres that I read or have read in the past. Primarily because my speculative fantasy series (a relatively new industry term that only scratches the surface of the topics—and genres—in my novels) involves aliens of the extraterrestrial kind.
In the publishing world, that autocratically and absolutely means I’m writing science fiction fantasy. Yet I have never—beginning with Dune when I was assigned to read it in fifth grade—enjoyed reading in that genre. Nor have I been a traditional fantasy kind of person, though some of my favorite novel series have elements of fantasy weaved into a real-world context.
Think Janet Evanovich’s by-the-numbers Stephanie Plum novels. Or the Charlaine Harris Sookie Stackhouse series about vampires and fairies, which are curiously deemed mystery novels by the publishing industry. I’ve also never been fan nor reader of the classic mystery novel, especially murder mysteries.
Ultimately, I realized after once again pondering the do-you-read-in-your-writing-genre question, that I came up with my own version of science fiction. An otherworldly story comprising elements of scientific fact yet it’s set in present day, not against a backdrop of a stark, cold dystopian future.
I’ve written the kind of science fiction that I wanted to read, not what passes as traditional for that genre. What I did with my Other Worldly novels was create a mixed-genre world of fantasy and reality pulsing with forms of life pleasing to me. Something original.
You know, that thing that literary agents and publishers claim to be seeking, but not really, because then they’d have to figure out how to market works that aren’t that same old cookie-cutter standard genre categories that everyone’s been reading for years.
And while I’m at it, permit me to offer this aside to the traditional publishing industry: Perhaps if you don’t want to get burned by liars, you should collectively stop giving lucrative book deals to non-writers who are also scumbag traitors to our nation.
But back to those standard genres. Traditional romance, for instance, which I read avidly in my younger years and am not so keen on now. There’s not much out there in most fictional genres, including romance novels, with female protagonists over fifty who might just want to have flings and friction—as opposed to marriage and children—with multiple men of myriad DNA components, including aliens. Especially aliens. Because maybe they’re better at a few things than human males, both emotionally and physically.
The thing is, my aliens are a catalyst for addressing critical issues plaguing our nation and on our planet, including racism, misogyny, greed, religious fanaticism, violence wrought by gun mongering, political corruption, environmental degradation, and the list goes on. Plus, many likely long for superheroes while grappling with sobering subjects.
I do this using humor where I can, presumably because I love reading comedic fiction by Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey, and Janet Evanovich, and because we all need to laugh. Yesterday I drafted a scene for book seven, Aliens Watch, that had me giggling aloud, delighted that my crazy characters had brought me such an unexpected gift.
A lot of us read to escape the world around us. My novels are escapist, and yet they also really aren’t. Because the journalist in me can’t ignore current cruel realities, but I can also strive to make things better, if nowhere other than the pages of my books. I also have some pseudo-science-fiction fun while doing so.
Writing what is considered traditional science fiction would be for me like climbing an insurmountable wall into a clinical outer space. It’s much more fun to travel the solar system in stylish spacecraft equipped with pet pods for my critters, piloted by enthrallingly enlightened aliens who otherwise resemble humans. Not to mention drinking wine and botanical gin from Saturn with my pizza.
I’d call it a kinder, gentler, albeit feminist feisty, more cheerful version of science fiction.